By Master Sgt. Marelise Wood
386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Southwest Asia — “I push pallets on planes,” he mumbled through lips on a head hung low. Add shuffling feet and hunched shoulders and one would think this was a first date introduction gone wrong.
Gone wrong, yes. First date, no.
Bradley Hayes was an active-duty Airman working on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles when he left the Air Force in 1993. He went on to work in the information technology field and subsequently joined the 39th Aerial Port Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., in 2001. His civilian coworkers, curious about his job in uniform, understandably had questions. Not knowing anything about his new job outside of what he was taught in his technical school, Hayes was convinced he had made a career downgrade and struggled to hold his head up when the questions arose.
“I used to work on the electronic systems of the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile; I did its security, really sexy, cool stuff,’ said now Master Sgt. Hayes, deployed to the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron as the ramp operations noncommissioned officer. “I did stuff nobody knew about and now I push pallets. So literally, I would hang my head and normally I’d go, ‘I do this other thing now but you know what I used to do?’”
This all changed when Hayes went on his first annual tour as a reservist.
“My first annual tour was at Ramstein Air Base [Germany] and we were sending the ammunition and water to the guys in Afghanistan and I realized all of sudden, people die if we’re not there to push these pallets. So it may not be the sexiest, coolest job in the Air Force, but it’s a darn important one!”
As Air Force Central Command’s primary tactical airlift hub for re-supply missions, Hayes’ job with the 386th is indeed an important one. Ramp personnel at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing on average handle more than 3,000 tons of cargo each month; cargo that supports countless missions in AFCENT’s area of responsibility.
“At home station we’re not able to load things,” said Senior Airman Ethan Murao, deployed from the 48th Aerial Port Squadron, a reserve unit at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hickam, Hawaii. “Here is where I really began to love my job; being out there on the flight line driving the Material Handling Equipment (MHE).”
Material Handling Equipment like forklifts and aircraft loaders enables the ramp personnel to move the thousands of tons of cargo more safely and efficiently.
“It’s a dangerous job because you may have a 10K pound object or a really large object that’s more than the size of the pallet,” said Hayes. “So safety is the biggest thing. It takes a team effort to work the logistics of getting something from ‘Point A to Point B.’”
Much like the cargo, Hayes’ career made a big move; a move that initially he didn’t quite understand and appreciate. But seeing the impact of his new job was all he needed.
“Loading and unloading the aircraft, it’s manly, it’s fun, it’s hard work,” said Hayes. “I push pallets,” no lowered head, no mumbling and no, no first date.